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The crowd at the Sunday evening health care reform rally couldn’t have made it any plainer what they want: “Public option now!” they chanted spontaneously before the OFA bus arrived. Unfortunately, the speakers weren’t stressing that. The public option got scarcely a mention in fifty minutes worth of speeches. In the video below, you’ll hear the crowd, without anyone leading it, start the chant. Then you’ll see how torpid everybody was later while Russ Carnahan spoke–with an occasional shout of “public option now” from someone in the audience. But when Carnahan said the magic words, the crowd went crazy.

It struck me that several of the speakers–Robert Soutier, Lewis Reed, and Charlie Dooley–urged the crowd to chant “Health care now”, and the crowd complied. But intensity was reserved for “public option now.”

Perhaps that’s because the crowd knows that we have the votes to get health care legislation passed but also knows that without the public option to lower costs, reform will be inadequate. And it’s not as if passing that crucial element ought to be difficult. Its fate will be decided in the conference committee, where the House will insist on a public option. All we need is enough liberals from the Senate on the conference committee to vote for it.

Enter Harry Reid. He’s not so sure he supports the public option. So we can’t be sure he’ll put the right people on the conference committee. He’d be more likely to, I suppose, if Obama were speaking out unconditionally in favor of it, but I don’t hear the president doing that. When I broached the subject with OFA deputy director, Jeremy Bird, after the rally, he reiterated Obama’s insistence on “cutting costs”, but Bird obviously wasn’t authorized to say anything more specific.

 

So we face the maddening possibility that, despite controlling both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, Democrats might fail to pass adequate health care reform. How can this be? Bill Moyers, in an interview with Bill Maher, contends that the problem lies not just with a few spineless senators or DINOs.

[T]he problem is the Democratic Party. This is a party that has told its progressives, who are the most outspoken champions of health care reform, to “sit down and shut up.” And that’s what Rahm Emanuel, in effect, the Chief of Staff of the White House, had told progressives when they stood up as a unit in Congress and said, “No public insurance option, no health care reforms.” I think the reason for that is that, in the time since I was there, 40 years ago, the Democratic Party has become like the Republican Party, deeply influenced by corporate money. I think Rahm Emanuel, who’s a clever politician, understands that the money for Obama’s re-election will come primarily from the health industry, the drug industry, and Wall Street. And so he is a corporate Democrat, who is destined and determined that there won’t be something in this legislation, if we get it, that will turn off those powerful interests.

That is a damning observation from Moyers but one that we progressives dare not ignore. Max Baucus and Ben Nelson are in our collective face with the truth of it. And Harry Reid teases us with whether he’ll do the right thing. We’ll see, within the next few months, whether the party, from the president on down, has been so corrupted by corporate money that we cannot achieve decent health care reform. If so, the party’s soul is lost.